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Miss Brill
Katherine Mansfield’s short story into the heart and mind of the aging Miss


captures the spirit of human nature’s desire to feel important. The short

story revolves

around its one main character, Miss Brill who suffers from a lack of purpose


significance. Miss Brill appears to be living an illusion of importance

because in reality

she is scarcely noticed and needed. The author tells the story through the

eyes of an

outsider who possess such a familiarity with the main character, that much of

Miss Brill’s

characterization is presented indirectly through the narrator. The key

concepts used in

bringing out the theme of human desire to be a significant part of a greater

whole, are

point of view, characterization, and setting.

The key emphasis in revealing the theme is on Miss Brill’s character. In

order to

truly get a sense of who she is, the author provides a setting that

compliments the mood

and gesture of the story. Set in London on a Sunday at the Public Gardens,

the story opens

with a glamorous description, “the blue sky powdered with gold and great

spots of light

like white wine splashed over the Jardines Publiques” (p.97). The author

then goes on to

mention that Miss Brill was pleased with her decision to wear her fur coat.

Miss Brill is

captured by her surroundings, and wishes to take part in it by revealing her

best to the

public. Also mentioned, is that it is Season, a time of load and gay music,

festive and

content people. The weather is described pleasantly, the air is “motionless,”

with just “a

faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip...”(p.97).

Everything is

enchanting and obliging. This is what brings Miss Brill to the gardens on

this particular

Sunday with such high spirits. She feels a sense of belonging in the gardens.

Miss Brill is

familiar with all of the faces, including the band members. The author

describes the band

on Sundays as not caring how they played because there weren’t any

strangers present.

Miss Brill even notices that the conductor is wearing a new coat. Her

surroundings fulfill

her, she is familiar with all of the faces and gains pleasure from

pin-pointing and recalling

specific changes. Although she is alone, she perceives herself, in her fur

coat as one of

these fine people on this fine day collectively enjoying themselves.

From the setting we begin to see the developing of theme through Miss Brill’s

character. However, Miss Brill’s character in itself is developed through

not only her

actions, but the author’s representation of her. The point of view in the

story is

omniscient, in which a third person narrator tells the story possessing a

great familiarity

with the main character. The narrator describes Miss Brill as always

listening in on

conversations. “She had become really quite expert, she thought, as

listening as though

she didn’t listen, at sitting in other people’s lives just for a minute

while they talked round

her” (p.98). Miss Brill even forms her own opinions in the conversations,

such as how

one lady was just so silly in her fret over wearing spectacles. It pleases

Miss Brill

to meddle covertly in the affairs of her fellow people. This makes her feel


aware, and significant. Also, the narrator mentions Miss Brill’s

observation of the other

old people in the gardens. This mentioning is key because it reveals Miss

Brill’s illusion

in all of the other old people. She, however, does not notice that she

resembles them, and

sees them as strikingly “odd, silent, nearly old, and from the way they

stared they looked

as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or even---even cupboards!”

(p.99) Miss

Brill’s character is revealed extensively here, the reader fully grasps her

blind situation

(which can be said for the other old people just like Miss Brill who look at

her as

strikingly odd and funny).

Moreover, the author mentions Miss Brill creating her role in a play. Miss


creates her significance in the gardens by perceiving everyone present as

part of a grand

company of actors playing out their parts. This gives Miss. Brill a sense of


“Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody would have

noticed if

she hadn’t been there; she was part of the performance after all”

(p.100). The author

reveals Miss Brill as truly believing that without doubt if she was not

present on Sundays

somebody would notice. Certainly this is false, Miss Brill is not living in

reality. In

addition, Miss Brill builds her self importance by perceiving her self as a

true actress. She

tells “the invalid gentleman” to whom she reads the newspaper to four

days a week that

she “has been an actress for a long time” (p.100). The author also

mentions that Miss

Brill would not have minded if the gentleman was dead and not even paying

attention to

what she was reading. The point is just that, Miss Brill wants to read, to

play her part and

even if she has to create her importance she will, blindingly. Another,

mentioning which

does not involve Miss Brill but does hold significance in the story is that

of the woman in

the ermine toque. This woman also portrays the concept of human desire to

feel needed or

important. The author describes the woman after being rejected as: “she was

alone; she

smiled more brightly than ever” (p.99). The woman smiles because, she too,

lives an

illusion. The woman is not true to herself or does not wish to face the


In the closing of the story, we encounter a change or realization in Miss

Brill. Her

character becomes more aware of who she really is. This takes place when a

young couple

comes and sits beside her and regards her presence by questioning: “why

does she come

her at all--who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?”


This is the turning point and the key moment of self-realization for Miss

Brill. She

doesn’t even make her usual stop at the bakery on her way home. She just

goes into “her

little dark room--her room like a cupboard...” (p.101) The author mentions

here the

cupboard again to clearly reveal Miss Brill’s situation (of lonliness and

oddness just like

the other old people at the park).

Miss Brill, as with many people as they age, loses her key meaning or


in social life. She attempts to cover this reality with a subconscious

illusion that she

indeed does play a significant role. The author reveals this theme of human

motive to be a

meaningful part of a whole, through the eyes and soul of the lonely Miss

Brill. In the

closing, Miss Brill has unclasped her necklet quickly and placed it inside

the box. “But

when she put the lid on she thought she thought she heard something crying”


This is the crying of a harsh reality. Miss Brill in her fancy fur is just

another aimless and

lonely old woman in the park.
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miss brill. EssayMania.com. Retrieved on 12 Oct, 2010 from